Your Machines Are Getting Smarter

Aug. 4, 2014
Learn how OEMs are building smart machines that seamlessly connect the plant floor with the enterprise to help both OEMs and end users analyze data for better decision-making.

Manufacturers want innovative machines that easily integrate into their plant-wide infrastructure. As a result, equipment and machine OEMs are responding with smart machines that seamlessly connect the plant floor with the enterprise. By using a single control and information platform, these "smart machines" can demonstrate an unsurpassed level of intelligence, consume and generate information automatically, and adapt to new situations. They also can give OEMs the secure remote access and insight they need to both satisfy these customer demands and analyze the operational data that enables them build better, more responsive machines.

'Smart machine' is an umbrella term for the important trends in the industry that include safety, leveraging information, integration, diagnostics, and basically taking advantage of the information that's on machines and is becoming more available," explains Christopher Zei, vice president, Global Industry Group, Rockwell Automation. "And there are three issues that we at Rockwell Automation think about in this regard that help us figure out the right value proposition for each customer." Those are:

  1. Plantwide optimization: Help end users optimize their assets, and help reduce their total cost of ownership.
  2. OEM performance: Do what's right for the builders, making sure Rockwell Automation is providing products that help them build a better machine;
  3. Sustainable production: Be a sustainable company and help OEMs and their customers be sustainable, which includes factors such as safety and energy monitoring.

Zei notes the trends that affect machine builder performance. One trend is the sheer dollar volume that end customers spend on equipment. "About 75% of the purchases in the consumer products space are for equipment and machinery on the factory floor," he says. "In automotive, it's more like 50%, and in some of the heavy industries such as water, wastewater and mining, it's closer to 30%. But in all cases, it's a significant number."

Focus on Core Competencies

Another trend is the increasing rate at which end customers outsource activity to the OEMs so they can focus more on their core competencies.

"The CEO of a food company told me that his company had to get back to what it does well — making cookies — and it shouldn't be specifying what goes on or into the machines. It should just be specifying what they want that machine to do," Zei explains. "Those end customers want machine builders who can be good partners with them."

One of the things that nearly every user wants from its equipment is a combination of throughput and flexibility. "Those two are really counter to each other," Zei remarks. "If you want maximum throughput, you design and optimize a machine to produce one SKU as fast as it can. But what's typical is the need to produce many SKUs, and that means a machine designed to handle the most-difficult SKU, and that tends to determine throughput. The reality is that everyone wants both."

Another big need is for machines to generate information that will provide these good outcomes for productivity, sustainability and flexibility needs.

Valter Marcolini of Tissue Machinery Co. (TMC, says leveraging information is an important element of TMC's business. "Diagnostics and preventive maintenance are very important to achieve OEE," he says. "We're proud to have developed systems that can do both through specialized software, so we can see what is going to happen and analyze the data compared to the compiled data."

Gathering process information to enhance product traceability is a key factor for Ana Paula Herrstrom of TetraPak (, a Rockwell Automation OEM Partner. She says, “The information we need is to ensure that if product quality didn't reach the levels demanded by customers, we're able to stop it inside [the company]."

Equipment builder M.W. Waldrop ( uses data in both directions. "Almost every piece of equipment we build has data-gathering capabilities from the plant floor to the engineering desk, but we're gathering information for our own use to improve our designs," says Chris Waldrop. "How long did it take to get up and running after an upset; did the infeed not flow as well as it should have for a particular product?"

Waldrop says his company also uses the data to present efficiencies back to its customers, including recipe performance and even operator or group performance.

But with access comes the need to secure that information. "Just as has been shown with safety — that you can't just put a wrapper around it, you have to build it in as part of your architecture — the same applies for network security," Zei says.

"That means building security in a layered model with best practices that include defense-in-depth that accounts for both inside and outside threats; an openness that includes strict, but appropriate access control, but which has the flexibility to deal with specific end-customer needs, while maintaining an overall consistency of approach that users will understand," he adds.

Machine OEMs are involved with line integration either directly as the responsible party or as part of an overall scheme. "In the CPG [consumer packaged goods] space, we found that in many cases, the highest or second-highest cost of a project was line integration," Zei notes. "And we heard that in some cases, the integration cost exceeded the total cost of the machines being installed."

"If product quality didn't reach the levels demanded by customers, we're able to stop it inside [the company]." — Ana Paula Herrstrom, TetraPak, on the need to quickly gather and aggregate product quality information from its packaging machines.

Smart Machines and Robotics

Engineers also are designing smart machines using complex and increasingly sophisticated robot technology. Engineers need to ensure the system is scalable, while mitigating safety and security risks, and building in energy management. The robotic system must provide personnel at all levels with access to prognostic and diagnostic data the same way discrete and process automation systems deliver operating data.

A case in point is Rockwell Automation OEM Partner Aagard ( The company had extensive experience developing modular packaging solutions, but previous in-feed modules had been custom designed to handle specific package dimensions. As a result, the in-feed modules limited machine flexibility. To overcome fixed package-size constraints, the OEM incorporated vision-guided robotics.

Aagard worked with Rockwell Automation to design a flexible robotic in-feed module using the Logix control platform and the Rockwell Automation Integrated ArchitectureTM system, which effortlessly scales from small to large to accommodate a range of motion axes.

The EtherNet/IPTM networking solution enables seamless communication across the motion control system, vision cameras and I/O. It also helps simplify the process of synchronizing the module with other machinery. Previous in-feed modules without EtherNet/IP were difficult to connect with other equipment.

Aagard’s customers see tremendous value in the intelligent diagnostics available with the bandwidth of EtherNet/IP, regardless of the number of axes.

The robotic in-feed module can accommodate fewer than 16 or up to 52 coordinated motion control axes. Aagard engineers can simply shift from Allen-Bradley® CompactLogix™ controllers ( to Allen-Bradley ControlLogix® controllers ( to accommodate additional axes using the same application code base, saving development time and cost.

The Logix control platform provides the flexibility needed to implement vision-guided robotics into the in-feed module. The new module has reduced factory testing time by at least 10% to 20%. Re-using application code has saved between 10% to 30% in the overall development cycle. In addition, the module is easily scalable to meet unique package-size, machine-footprint, cost and performance requirements.

Smart is Always Better

Manufacturers everywhere are facing a growing need for increased quality, throughput and flexibility. Additionally, technology advances, labor shortages, increasing wages and heightened pressure to improve worker safety make the need for smart machines even greater. As a result, OEMs are building smarter, more responsive machines with secure remote access to help their customers analyze data and improve business decision-making.

Rockwell Automation OEM Solutions

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